SAN FRANCISCO -- A publicity stunt for a new warfare-based video game sent environmentalists to arms when a mass of balloons carrying advertisements for the game cascaded into San Francisco Bay.
"When I looked out the window and saw thousands of balloons dropping straight into the bay, I was flabbergasted," said Rod Fujita, a senior oceans scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund. "I never expected to see something like this in San Francisco, where there's such concern about the bay and pollution."
The release of the 10,000 ill-fated red balloons came courtesy of THQ, a Southern California video game company in town for the Game Developers Conference.
Because the game is set in a near-future where the United States is invaded by nuclear-armed troops from North Korea, the company staged a mock lunchtime rally at Yerba Buena Gardens where the game's supporters, in the words of the company's news release, "will take to the streets to demonstrate against the North Korean regime and the treatment of its citizens."
The staged rally was capped by the massive balloon launch, designed, the company said, to "simulate a method used by South Korea to send messages of hope to the North."
The "messages of hope" carried by these balloons, however, amounted to an exclusive offer from GameStop video game store allowing gamers to "receive the resistance multi-player pack, featuring an exclusive weapon."
That message didn't get too far. While the balloons at first soared into the skies, wind and rain quickly sent thousands of them plunging into the bay, only blocks away.
"They were just dropping right out of the sky into the water," Fujita said.
A statement from THQ assured concerned bayside residents that the balloons "were made from a 100 percent organic product and are 100 percent biodegradable," with no history of causing environmental pollution.
But just in case, the statement continued, "we've retained a clean up crew to remove any potential lingering debris."
(Contact John Wildermuth at jwildermuth(at)sfchronicle.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com)